THE BLOG

Making Sure Coffee Farmers Get Their Due

06/04/2014 16:35 BST | Updated 03/06/2014 10:59 BST

Every time we announce a company making a major commitment to Fairtrade (Ferrero being the most recent), we get great feedback from the public, other companies, and NGOs. Yet nothing prepared me for the excitement last year when Nespresso announced a commitment to source 10 percent of their coffee on Fairtrade terms and to work with the Colombian government on a pension plan for small farmers in Colombia.

People were tweeting the launch photos, asking me all about it. Were they excited to see a quality leader like Nespresso joining Fairtrade? The new, innovative Farmers' Futures Programme? The link with Colombia? Or could it just possibly, perhaps, maybe have something to do with the involvement of a certain Mr. George Clooney?

The film star is Nespresso's brand ambassador - using the money he earns to do things like put a satellite over Darfur to monitor troop movements. He is also genuinely interested in the story of coffee farmers, and intrigued by Nespresso's plan to work with Fairtrade farmers on pensions.

Being somewhat slower than others I wasn't the first to join the Clooney fan club. But he won my heart when in 2007, upon receiving the Nobel Laureate's Summit Peace Award for his work in Darfur, Clooney said he felt that he was coming before the Laureates "a failure."

"We do concerts, rallies, where thousands of people show up and say how terrible it is," Clooney told a news conference at the time. "But the truth is not one single thing has changed. Now it's time to turn that corner."

Sometimes that's how it feels in Fairtrade - you can be blown away by all that Fairtrade has achieved in the past 25 years - the fact that public recognition of the FAIRTRADE Mark is 90% in four countries; that sales in 2012 topped €4.8 billion; that we are now working with over 1.4 million producers across 70 countries....

And yet and yet and yet, we can only ever be constructively dissatisfied because the scale of the task remains so great. Millions of farmers are lining up to join Fairtrade, but they can only sell as much on fairer terms as the companies and the public buy.

So while we have notched up some great successes - for example about half of all bananas in Switzerland are Fairtrade, a fifth of roses in Germany, all the sugar from Belize - for most commodities, Fairtrade is still less than 1 percent of global trade. That is why we have to step up the pace and unlock the power of the many farmers, workers and citizens to make trade fairer. We have to innovate and continue to push the model forward as the world changes.

Two weeks ago, I was in Colombia to meet the phenomenally well-organised coffee farmers of Aguadas Cooperative who sell to, among others, Nespresso. As with most farming groups the world over, the majority are men - but roughly a third of the members are women.

Luz Morlena Betancor, 38 years old, has been in the co-op eight years. She took the rights to her farm because her husband had little interest in maintaining it. "I find it very good to be in the cooperative," she says.

She has benefited from the co-op's revolving loan scheme, taking loans to improve her house and then to buy a computer. But now she's looking at another challenge.

"We have to think about when we get older," she says. "Without a pension, what are we going to do? I have aunts and uncles who have worked all their lives in the countryside, and now they have nothing - no protection, no money, nothing."

It's a widespread problem. And we see some producers choosing to invest their Fairtrade Premiums in pension schemes. But in Colombia, the idea is to go one step further bringing in the Ministry of Labour to contribute to each farmer's pension fund.

It's a pioneering initiative welcomed by the lively Lina Trujillo who represents Colombia in the CLAC, the network of Fairtrade producers in Latin America, and Marta Luz Giralda of the Aguadas Cooperative. Women like these will drive change in their communities across the world and it's their contributions that further our shared mission to make trade fair.

For every major announcement we make there are thousands of people working away behind the scenes to improve their lives on their terms - women who don't get the same attention that George Clooney does - but who deserve the spotlight.

It's a story we see across so many sectors. Which is why I welcome so much the First Woman awards as a great opportunity to celebrate women who are in the forefront of driving and creating change against the odds. Now if your last chance to apply - or nominate. And then come back and vote....